University’s 24th doctoral program is Ph.D. in civil engineering

Research being conducted in EPIC's High Bay Lab
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

UNC Charlotte has received approval to offer a Ph.D. in civil engineering; this is the University’s 24th doctoral program. This new degree will provide doctoral-level education for students seeking civil engineering careers in practice, research and teaching/academia.

“I think we are all aware of the reports on the poor condition of much of the nation’s infrastructure and the need for improvement in bridges, roads and other major public resources. Through this program, UNC Charlotte will help meet the nation’s and the region’s demand for graduates equipped to address these problems. We will also graduate students ready to support major regional industries such as the energy industry. Through a broad curriculum, students will be able to concentrate in environmental, geotechnical, structural or transportation engineering,” said Joan Lorden, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNC Charlotte.

The William States Lee College of Engineering’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department will administer the program, which will be housed in the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center building, a $76-million state-of-the-art facility.

The Ph.D. in Civil Engineering program will fulfill the state’s mandate for EPIC to drive innovation within electrical, civil and mechanical engineering disciplines with new advancements in the energy fields while educating a new generation of engineering professionals. EPIC was designed to supply highly trained engineers and increase research capacity to meet the demands of the energy industry and regional economic development goals.

The Ph.D. program also will support students conducting research within unique centers and facilities, including the U.S. Department of Transportation-funded Center for Advanced Multimodal Mobility Solutions and Education (CAMMSE); the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Sustainably Integrated Building and Sites (SIBS); the Infrastructure, Design, Environment and Sustainability (IDEAS) center; the Infrastructure Security and Emergency Responder Research and Training (ISERRT) Facility; and the Center for Transportation Policy Studies. 

The American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE), which is the primary professional organization for civil engineers, now views a master’s degree as the entry-level degree for the profession. With jobs in the industry expected to increase during the next decade by 20 percent, higher numbers of engineers are expected to pursue a Ph.D. to distinguish themselves in the market.

In the future, master’s degrees will focus more on providing the required technical expertise primarily through coursework, and the Ph.D. in civil engineering will emphasize advanced studies and industry relevant research. Demand for Ph.D. graduates in civil engineering is not limited to research and development, community colleges and universities but also to filling the increasing demand of these graduates from civil engineering consulting and contracting companies.

Rich Keagy, a vice president at AECOM, wrote, “A Ph.D. is not just useful for a career in academia. AECOM is ranked number one among global design firms, and we need the expertise at all levels. While appropriately fewer in number as compared to bachelor’s and master’s (degree holders), we routinely hire employees with Ph.D.s in civil engineering, for example, Dr. Kula Kulasingam who now serves as a senior lead geotechnical engineer here in Charlotte.”

“UNC Charlotte has already invested heavily in infrastructure and research facilities to support the doctoral-level education and research in civil engineering. With a well-established engineering program, excellent research and instructional facilities and partnerships with technology-intensive industry employers in the region, UNC Charlotte is a desirable, unique and cost-effective place to initiate a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering program,” explained Lorden.

University and Lee College officials anticipate enrolling the first class of Ph.D. in civil engineering candidates in fall 2019. Six to eight students will be admitted per year, including up to four part-time students by 2023. Degree completion will require at least 72 approved graduate credits beyond the baccalaureate. Up to 30 approved credits from graduate courses taken during students’ masters' degree, which may have been taken at some other university, may be transferred toward UNC Charlotte’s Ph.D. in civil engineering.